How I saved the BBC from the right-wing
All right. My headline may be over-egging things a little. Still, I am pretty sure I helped save the BBC from making a fool of itself over climate change politics. (If I’m wrong, and someone in a position to know lets me know in confidence, I’ll cheerfully take this blog down.) The issue is especially interesting to me since I want the BBC to be scrapped but I don’t really share the right’s horror of its supposed left-wing bias or even the current blogosphere outrage at the BBC’s climate coverage.
When I attended the BBC’s “notorious” seminar on climate change in 2006, I had a conversation with a BBC man (I am almost sure a male) who talked to me about plans for a proposed or planned special day of broadcasting on climate change. My impression, and I am sure I could only have had it from this conversation, was that it was to be modelled on the kind of broadcasting which the BBC had done during 2005 on Make Poverty History (including various Richard Curtis enterprises – not least The Girl In a Cafe), and in particular Live 8. My impression was that its plans for activist broadcasting (my words, of course, not the BBC’s) went well beyond the Climate Chaos season in February 2006 which included some coverage I thought pretty poor, including Paul Rose’s Meltdown and not excluding David Attenborough’s later contributions to what turned out to be a year of alarmed broadcasting.
Well, in the event, public indifference, uncertainty and even general apathy remained undented by this onslaught as I suspected it might. My point, made often back then and since, is that one can accept the seriousness of climate change and yet remain sceptical of the usefulness of any plausible policy one might throw at it. At the very least, politicians and broadcasters need to begin with the public’s scepticism and see what it is sensible to say.
That’s why there is a world of difference between making a lot of noise about the science (and the media in general has much preferred a particular, alarmist take on that) and discussion of what should be done.
Full-on activist broadcast assumes that one knows whose policy ideas and ideals to support. That is where the BBC went so wrong with Make Poverty History and might well have compounded its errors with climate change. Some of that activist sort of approach was later (2007) quite seriously criticised by the BBC Trust. At that seminar in 2006, I told this senior BBC person that the BBC would be walking into a shed-load of trouble if it failed to spot that the activist case on climate change involved even more tendentious politics than did debt relief or aid to Africa. I had the impression that no-one had drawn this to his attention before and that he was quite impressed by the argument. Certainly that special did not happen. Indeed, the BBC’s climate change coverage has somewhat improved since. I like to think that I saved the BBC from making a fool of itself. A green activist would doubtless say that I made a coward of a great British institution and a right-winger would say the BBC is still awful.
In passing, I don’t worry that the BBC is left-wing in any significant way. Rather, I think its vaguely soft-left liberal green comfort zone is occasionally quite hazardous to the boisterous taste for the counter-intuitive which most ensures good journalism. (That was part of the BBC Trust’s thinking in its 2007 report, and whether or not the Trust was being disingenuous, I share it.)
Indeed, I am for scrapping the BBC because I think its state-mandated funding mechanism is bad for social development and because its state-mandated impartiality inclines it to a vague non-specific dissidence and to a vague quest for some liberal touchstone of decency. I am not all sure that being a social good-egg is what journalism is about.